There is really no adequate way to describe the Bay to Breakers annual San Francisco Run/Walk to someone who has never done it before. I had always wanted to participate – what is keeping me, I asked myself this spring. This was the year to do it.

Early on Sunday, May 19th, at 4:45 am to be exact, a friend and I met for the drive to Larkspur. We caught the 6 o’clock ferry to San Francisco – a beautiful crossing, already warm at that time, the morning sun on the Ferry Building as we approached. We were at the starting line before 7 o’clock, and so had lots of time to take in the circus-like atmosphere all around us. Most people were dressed in creative, well-planned, or absolutely weird outfits. Anything went, and the men and women who wanted to feel liberated, left their clothes behind and ran or walked in the altogether. You might think they’d get a lot of stares or suppressed giggles, but that wasn’t the case at all. To most everybody they were just participants in this gigantic street party. This is so much San Francisco tradition that no amount of enforcement (there IS a law against public nudity) would ever be able to touch the B to B. Shortly before the starting gun went off, people came with bags full of small tortillas, which were hurled around and flung like Frisbees. When I asked somebody what that was all about, she only laughed and said: “Tradition!”

At 7 am, the wait was over for the more or less 30,000 people. The runners, of course, started it off, thousands of eager men, women, and youngsters, all racing toward the finish line, 12 kilometers (a little over 7 miles) away. So it was a long time before the walkers were able to take the first step. But after that nothing could hold us back. Lots of residents lined the streets to cheer us on, many in costume themselves. Whenever I stopped briefly to take a picture, I found myself with new people around me, admiring their costumes, enjoying their delight and excitement. As we labored up the Hayes Street hill, I looked at a sea of humanity, and when I turned around, there was another sea of humanity.

Ample water stations and restroom opportunities were set up along the way, people tossing their empty water cups into the gutter or onto the street – no garbage cans would be big enough anyway! Different bands did their best to entertain us – many walkers would stop and dance. Great cheering when we saw the large banners that counted down the miles: We did 5 miles already? Look, we are at the 6-mile mark! 7 miles – yeah! Almost there…

And then we were there. Ocean Beach came into sight, and my friend and I stepped over the finishing line, elated at completing the Bay to Breakers 2013, this colorful, funky, eclectic parade. Our time wasn’t bad either: 2 hrs. 58 minutes. We weren’t out to set a record but went along at a comfortable pace. The result: No tired feet or legs, no blisters, and plenty of energy left over.

A shuttle bus took us back into town, we later had lunch at the Ferry Building and sipped Peet’s coffee on a bench in the warm sunshine. After a relaxing ferry ride back to Larkspur, I pulled into my garage at 5 pm. A long day, but a marvelous experience.

We’ll be back next year – and then in a wild costume!